Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Stuck in the middle

I'm not talking about 'federalization' of minimum wage and immigration control. To me at least, that's been inevitable for a long, long time. All of this noise about whether it 'should' happen is just a distraction (That's still not the best word, but it's better than demagoguery). In the end, like a small animal chasing its tail, you end up in the same place.

No. It's here, and where do we go from here?

Oversimplifying (my specialty), I've read and seen that there are too many 'guest workers'. There likely won't be enough when the CW* workers are phased out in five years.

Boonie Workers

The idea of CNMI-only H-2 workers has been floated. What would that accomplish? The CNMI, and Guam, are not subject to the quota: we can hire as many H-2 workers as we need. There's the rub; the H-2 classification is for skilled workers, while the Commonwealth will probably be short of semi-skilled workers. That proposal sounds like misdirection; an attempt to squeeze CW skills into the H-2 rules. Better we use something like, say, BW (boonie worker).

Any system that attempts to fill permanent positions with an underclass of temporary workers will be abused, and it doesn't matter whether it is administered locally or federally.

The shining path

Guest workers and their advocates argue that the solution is residency and a pathway to citizenship. They also say it is only fair to people who have worked and lived here for 10, 20 or more years.

Some opponents argue that they will be overwhelmed by the sheer number of aliens, losing control. That's already happened, except politically, but we'll set that aside.

Others like the BW system. "What if these people get status and then run to Guam?" they ask.

So here I am, stuck in the middle. Yes, citizenship, out of fairness and equity (though, despite the urban legends, you knew the rules). Yes, don't dilute the culture (but where were you 20 years ago?). Yes, there might not be enough workers when the transition ends (why, after all of these years, aren't our wages closer to Guam's?).

Just the facts, ma'am

Jack Webb got it right, but there aren't many facts to go by. That's another chase-your-own-tail blame game. The economy will change during the transition. How much, and in what ways is anybody's guess.

So far, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services people have been asking for help in getting from here to there. Some see that as a failing on their part. I don't. Rather it's something refreshing, coming as it does from the federal government.

Of course, the Secretary of the Interior is supposed to come out with a report by May 8, 2010 including "the number of aliens in the CNMI, their legal status, the length of the aliens’ stays in the CNMI, the CNMI economy’s need for foreign workers, and recommendations, if deemed appropriate, whether or not legal foreign workers in the CNMI on May 8, 2008, should be able to apply for long-term status under United States law."

Not so fast, Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Interior Nikolao I. Pula testified in May. He asked for another year, arguing that there wasn't enough time to see the trends with DHS delaying its takeover for 180 days.

Here we go again.

* The CW, or unskilled CNMI-only, category is on hold until Immigration goes back and issues its regulations following the Administrative Procedures Act.


Anonymous said...

The chamber wants a CNMI only H2 visa because if a worker gets an H1 or H2 visa then it's a US visa, they can be on the next plane off the island.

KAP said...

I know. But, as usual, the local workforce would take hind tit.

I want some of the H-2 qualified workers to leave. That's a tricky calculation.